A Look Back Over 20 Years of Evo-Devo Studies on Sponges: A Challenged View of Urmetazoa

  • Quentin Schenkelaars
  • Amélie Vernale
  • Laura Fierro-Constaín
  • Carole Borchiellini
  • Emmanuelle RenardEmail author


The majority of extant metazoans are animals with bilateral symmetry, a gut, a central nervous system and a head; they are grouped in a taxon named Bilateria. As a consequence, most of the zoological definitions are based on observations in bilaterian animals. To understand how these anatomical features emerged, it is now necessary for the Evo-Devo field to undertake studies on the four extant lineages that emerged earlier, namely Cnidaria, Placozoa, Ctenophora and Porifera. Being the sister group of bilaterians, cnidarians have received much attention compared to the other three phyla but, given the disparity of body plans between these four non-bilaterian phyla, comparative analyses are needed not only to trace back the origin and evolution of genetic mechanisms involved in animal development but also to understand the evolutionary processes that gave rise to such a huge animal body plan diversity. This chapter focuses on the evo-devo approaches applied to Porifera and how the data have changed our view of these uncommon animals and how it challenges previous concepts of the last common metazoan ancestor. We discuss here the current and future steps that need to be undertaken to ensure that sponges join the laboratory “model organisms club.”


Bilaterians Non-bilaterians Body plan evolution Animal evolution Phylogenetic Genomics Model organisms 



The authors acknowledge the Région Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur and the French Research ministry for the PhD funding they provided to L. Fierro Ph.Ds of L. Fierro-Constain’s and the Q. Schenkelaars respectively. The authors thank Prof. Stephen Prime (University of Bristol) and Mr. Thomas Smith, two native English speakers, for providing proofreading services. The authors are grateful to Dr. Pierre Pontarotti and Dr. Anne Chenuil-Maurel for constructive comments for Sect. 7.2. The authors thank the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Aix-Marseille University and the Amidex foundation for providing funds to support fundamental research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Quentin Schenkelaars
    • 1
    • 2
  • Amélie Vernale
    • 1
    • 3
  • Laura Fierro-Constaín
    • 1
  • Carole Borchiellini
    • 1
  • Emmanuelle Renard
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Aix Marseille Univ, Avignon Université, CNRS, IRD, IMBE, Marseille, FranceMarseilleFrance
  2. 2.Department of Genetics and Evolution, Faculty of SciencesInstitute of Genetics and Genomics in Geneva (IGe3), University of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland
  3. 3.Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, IBDM, UMR 7288MarseilleFrance

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